The late Jack A. Weil.

Denver ArtsWeek: Piecing together art at Rockmount Ranch Wear

Art is where you find it. And on Friday, November 14, the kick-off of Denver ArtsWeek, when eleven museums across town opened their doors to huge, enthusiastic crowds, I found it in what could be the city's smallest museum: the mezzanine of Rockmount Ranch Wear.

That's the oldest still-operating business in lower downtown, an operation founded sixty years ago by the late Jack. A. Weil, inventor of the snap-button Western shirt (and subject of the August appreciation "Jack A. Weil Proved that the West Is Not a Place, But a State of Mind.") This building, at 1626 Wazee Street, initially housed just the company's offices and wholesale operation, but the Weils opened a retail sales operation in the space a decade ago. And when grandson and current Rockmount head Steve A. Weil headed a renovation of the place a few years ago, he created the city's classiest souvenir shop -- one complete with a tiny museum that includes clippings on stars wearing the company's shirts, as well as some of the more classic models.

And now, the museum includes quilts, including some made from scraps of those shirts. While cleaning out one of the many collections created by his late father, Jack. B. Weil, Steve found a stash of such quilts -- some of which Jack B. purchased, but several that he commissioned from Rockmount workers at factories in the South, who would take scraps home at night and create art out of the remnants of commerce.

That quartet of quilts, most dating from the '70s, are now on display at the store, along with informative descriptions offered by the head of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, who dropped by to assess the collection. They're fascinating cultural artifacts, but also stunning examples of a quintessentially American art form -- one perfected by female artisans over the decades, who turned scraps into modest masterpieces. -- Patricia Calhoun

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